Wednesday, March 20, 2013

A Few Thoughts on Being a Poet & a James Wright Poem

Occasionally I'll be doing something like washing my face and I'll think, "Why am I wasting my time writing poetry?" or "Why is poetry so important to me?" They are really both the same thought--though the first one is based on a negative view, and the second is more positive.

I have these thoughts less often these days having been writing poetry and nonfiction seriously for the last fifteen yes, but occasionally (sometimes after reading something cheesy about poetry, sometimes while out in the world living my life) I do have this thought. 

And when I have this thought, there is this thirty-second moment when I feel I can walk away from poetry, from writing without regret and live a completely different life. I would liken this to an addict, being completely addicted to something and having it be so much of your life, yet every so often there are these doors (perhaps, a moment of clarity, though I hate to use that term) that come into our lives that open and we can walk away. 

Each time, this moment happens to me, I've chosen to continuing writing poetry and living the life I have. But I wonder if one time, I will ever feel like I need to move on from poetry, if there will ever be a time I will choose to walk away.

I can't explain this feeling, my best comparison is one day when I was 25 years old on an airplane coming home from London-- they served me a chicken dinner and I said to my husband, "I'm not going to eat meat anymore" and handed him my meal. For twelve years I didn't eat a single piece of meat or fish. 

What happened somewhere over the Atlantic that would just turn the meat-switch in my brain to off? And twelve years later on Mardi Gras I said, "I think I'll start eating meat again" and had some shrimp cocktail. And so became my current life as a carnivore.

I don't think I'm necessarily wired differently from anyone else, but it surprises me how at certain times, I make these large decisions, and once they are made, I don't turn back, I just move forward. 

Once I decided to quit my job, move from the city/suburban life I had spent all my life in to a small town of less than three-thousand people.

I think when these moments come up for me, I need to listen to that inner instinct, the one that has never been wrong.  Lately, I've been feeling a little removed from that, but am trying to return to it, to return trust and faith back into my life.  I know when I listen to the inner part of myself good things happen and life ends up taking to amazing places I can't even imagine.

But it's hard to trust. It's hard to believe what we are doing matters.  

But it does.  A wasted life is a beautiful thing.


Lying In A Hammock At William Duffy's Farm In Pine Island, Minnesota
James Wright

Over my head, I see the bronze butterfly,
Asleep on the black trunk,
blowing like a leaf in green shadow.
Down the ravine behind the empty house,
The cowbells follow one another
Into the distances of the afternoon.
To my right,
In a field of sunlight between two pines,
The droppings of last year's horses
Blaze up into golden stones.
I lean back, as the evening darkens and comes on.
A chicken hawk floats over, looking for home.
I have wasted my life. 

~ Kells

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  1. Great post :) I love this poem. I have a version of it that shows the different drafts that I use with composition students in order to discuss the revision process.

    I did walk away from poetry when I was about 25. I came back around 30. I didn't have a writing community around me, and I felt lost. I don't know if I would walk away from it again...

    But, I also didn't think I'd be able to give up diet soda. I don't think I've had one in about 5 years :)

  2. Jessie, I would love to see the different versions! Is the comparison of the JW drafts available online? -Nancy

  3. I scanned it in to a Google doc. Not sure what book it originally came from. I think Cathy Smith Bowers used it in a class I took with her during grad school. Here is the link:

  4. I mailed something to you a couple of days ago that is a small answer to those questions.~Kelley

  5. Jessie, I am interested in the revision methods also.

  6. I tried the link to a Google.doc. maybe it came.up as spam kelli?


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